Social media for teaching and learning — building a manifesto

The Learning Systems Team at the Open University are putting together their vision for greater use of social media in education. The Open University is the largest higher education institution in the UK and has been providing supported distance learning for over 40 years, using technology to create flexible learning that fits around students’ lives.

Many of us here at the OU are social media nerds. We love sharing stories, arguing about concepts, music and films, discovering new ideas and research, making connections… and, of course, collecting funny pictures of cats.

We’ve created tools within our VLE to help embed elements of social media networks within our online teaching, and we want to support the use of social media between educators and students — to make collaboration and access to information easier and create a self-supporting, engaged community of learners.

In thinking about these objectives, we decided to create a manifesto to stimulate the discussion and, hopefully, inspire engagement.

Socialist scumbags

“Why do you need a manifesto, are you a socialist or something?!”

Err, yes I suppose some of us are, but that’s not entirely relevant. Proposing a manifesto seemed like a suitably dramatic, if slightly pretentious, way of sharing our views, forming a vision and having a conversation. In this sense, a manifesto can be anything you want — a collection of ideas, a vision for the future, a straw man, a strategy, a mission statement.

The Learning Systems Team the last — and only — time we were allowed out.

Our manifesto isn’t really about the ‘how’ of social media for learning; more like the ‘why’. In fact, for more of a how-to with social media and education, have a look at our previous article Why use social media to support learning?. Another useful resource is the Open University Social Media Toolkit, put together by our Social Media Team here at the OU.

The Open University has always had an inspiring mission: we are open to people, places, methods and ideas. Reminding ourselves of this goal after a particularly painful meeting can be highly therapeutic.

Mission of The Open University

Let’s have a look at our nascent social media manifesto.


Social media for teaching and learning

Social media can support individuals in fulfilling their potential and achieving their personal goals, and allow the university to achieve its aim of providing life-changing supported learning, enriching society as a whole.

We love the potential social media has to enhance the student experience, by:
  • Enabling the creation, finding and sharing of content and ideas.
  • Improving access to information, stimulating deeper analysis and understanding, giving new routes to feedback and alternative views.
  • Allowing up to date and relevant teaching — integrating real-time events and context into learning, at local, national or global scale.
We believe social media can bring people together for more effective teaching and learning, by:
  • Encouraging conversation, discussion and debate — creating opportunities for constructive collaboration and driving participation.
  • Making real and useful connections — helping students to become part of a larger self-supporting digital community, giving everyone a voice and reducing feelings of isolation.
  • Bringing students closer to academics, teachers and educational technologists, and vice versa.
We are committed to helping educators and students to engage with social media, by:
  • Encouraging and supporting others who want to use social media.
  • Exploring new approaches and spreading best practice.
  • Building a supportive, collaborative and open community.

Thanks for reading! As usual, we’d love to get feedback — what have we missed, what do you disagree with?


Postscript: 9 manifestos for successful living

Before we go, here’s a quick review of some of our favourite manifestos from popular culture — in the spirit of standing on the shoulders of giants (and shamelessly ripping them off!). Cue Top of the Pops them tune…

1. The Agile Manifesto — “We value individuals and interactions over processes and tools” — This is how we create learning systems at the OU. Well, we sometimes have standy-uppy meetings, so we’re halfway there.

2. The Communist ManifestoA spectre is haunting Europe…” — maximum points for dramatic entrance. A compelling and world-changing piece of political theory. Top tip: can be slightly impractical when attempting to implement at scale.

3. US Declaration of Independence — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” — a timeless classic!

4. Frank Lloyd Wright’s manifesto for apprentices — “Appreciation of work as idea and idea as work” — scores points for maximum minimalism.

5. The Cluetrain Manifesto — Although first published in the late 90s, the work is still relevant, “A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed” — almost predicting the rise of social media to enable direct and honest conversations between people and organisations.

6. Dogme ’95 — Strict constraints for making films in which story and character are allowed to come to the fore. “Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden.” — no flashbacks, hurrah!

7. Riot GrrrlBECAUSE doing/reading/seeing/hearing cool things that validate and challenge us can help us gain the strength and sense of community that we need in order to figure out how bullshit like racism, able-bodieism, ageism, speciesism, classism, thinism, sexism, anti-semitism and heterosexism figures in our own lives.” Hell. Yes.

8. Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing — From “Never open a book with weather” to “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” Genius!

9. Google’s Ten things we know to be true — Written in the early days of Google these 10 points are still fundamental to their philosophy. Particularly like number nine — “You can be serious without a suit”.


Get in touch! Leave a comment or give us a poke at @GoTeamLTS. We’re off to find a big slab of granite and get to work on our manifesto with a hammer and chisel…

Version 0.1 — April 2016

Written by Steve Rycroft (educational technologist, tofu enthusiast and socialist working class warrior) and Steve Parkinson (product manager, social media gimp and part anarchist, part stickler for the rules), from the Learning Systems Team at the Open University.